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Bloomberg Has Strong Words For FAA Amid Ban On U.S. Flights To Israel

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg had strong words for the Federal Aviation Administration, which extended its ban on American airliners from flying into Israel's main airport "for up to an additional 24 hours," on Wednesday.

In a statement Wednesday, the FAA said it is "working closely with the Government of Israel" to review new information they have provided and to determine whether safety concerns have been resolved.

The directive applies only to U.S. operators, and has no authority over foreign airlines operating to or from the airport.

In a show of support, Bloomberg was one of the passengers who boarded an El Al flight for Israel Tuesday night.

"I'm not trying to prove anything," Bloomberg said at John F. Kennedy International Airport before he left late Tuesday. "I'm just trying to show that it's safe and a great place to visit and Israel has a right to defend its people and they're doing exactly what they should be doing."

The FAA imposed the restriction after a Hamas rocket landed within a mile of the airport on Tuesday.

Delta Air Lines and United Airlines also suspended service between the U.S. and Israel indefinitely Tuesday and US Airways scrapped its one flight to Tel Aviv.

Some foreign airliners, including Israeli airline El Al, are still flying into the region.

Bloomberg tweeted Wednesday morning that he had landed safely in Tel Aviv.

In an earlier statement Tuesday evening, Bloomberg strongly urged the FAA to "reverse course'' and permit U.S. airlines to fly to Israel. He said the flight restrictions were a concession to Hamas militants.

"The flight restrictions are a mistake that hand Hamas an undeserved victory and should be lifted immediately. I strongly urge the (Federal Aviation Administration) to reverse course and permit U.S. airlines to fly to Israel," the statement said.

After arriving in Israel Bloomberg had harsh words for the FAA.

"We've got to stand up and do what's right. You can't just get cowed when someone says something and go to the side of ultimate caution. That's how terrorists win," he said.

Bloomberg was greeted at Ben Gurion Airport by Prime Minister Netanyahu on Wednesday.

"We protect this airport. There's no reason whatsoever for the mistaken FAA decision instructing planes not to come here," Netanyahu said.

Both men said that the U.S. had strengthened the Palestinian's resolve and hurt Israel's economy by banning U.S. flights into Ben Gurion, which is within range of Hamas' rockets.

"The fact that one rocket falls far away from this airport, a mile away, doesn't mean you should shut down air traffic into a country and paralyze a country," the former New York City mayor said.

Other European airlines also suspended flights after the European Aviation Safety Agency late Tuesday said it "strongly recommends'' that airlines refrain from operating flights to and from Tel Aviv.

On Wednesday, Germany's Lufthansa and Air Berlin extended their cancellations through Thursday and Air France said it was suspending its flights "until further notice.''

The Israeli government felt the airlines overreacted Tuesday.

The Transportation Ministry called on the companies to reverse their decision, insisting Ben-Gurion Airport is safe and completely guarded and saying there is no reason to "hand terror a prize,'' by halting the flights.

The flight ban will remain in place until Thursday, officials said.

"As the situation continues to evolve we will adjust our guidance accordingly, but for the time being it is what it is," Transportation Secretary Anthony Fox explained.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry flew into Tel Aviv on a military jet Wednesday despite the FAA ban on commercial flights into Ben-Gurion Airport.

A number of clients have cancelled Israel and Holy Land tours at one New Jersey tour agency due to a fear of flying and a fear of the fighting, CBS 2's Tony Aiello reported.

"Those who have never been to Israel, it's frightening," Marlene Ritter, Israel Tour Connection, said.

Ritter's husband Larry is currently in Israel. He sent back pictures showing street life in Tel Aviv as well as frightening moments on board a bus as rockets flew overhead.

As CBS 2's Jessica Schneider reported, supporters of Israel in Stamford, Connecticut and on the Upper West Side prayed for a stop to the violence.

"We mourn for everybody, because every soldier is our son in Israel," Stephen Block said.

Block's son is on the front lines in Gaza, fighting with the Israeli Defense Forces. A week ago he turned off his phone due to a military mandate, and has not contacted his family since.

"I have not heard from my son, Stanley, or my nephew, Phillip, and if you see me here every day, that's a good sign. No news is good news," he said.

Hadeel Assali also has worries about family in the region. She has dozens of relatives in Gaza.

"They haven't had power for over 24 hours. They don't have water, a lot of people are living off of donated or bottled water. There's no food," she said.

Overnight in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, at least one person was killed in clashes between Palestinians and Israeli troops.

Kerry was planning to meet Wednesday with Israel's prime minster, the Palestinian Authority's president and the United Nations chief in a daylong visit to Jerusalem and Ramallah as he pushes for a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.

The violence and unrest continued as Palestinian protestors pelted Israeli troops with stones in the West Bank, and plumes of smoke filled the sky over Gaza City.

So far, more than 630 Palestinians and 29 Israelis have been killed in the fighting. The violence has also forced more than 118,000 Palestinians to flee their homes for U.N. shelters.

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